BRANDON — Michelle Johnson already knew that 13 sex offenders live within 1 mile of her home. She had accepted the fact that her 11-year-old daughter would likely pass through their neighborhood along the way to her school bus stop.
But she balked when she learned that the Hillsborough County School District had moved her daughter's bus stop along S Kings Avenue from Southview Drive to Center Avenue, putting it closer to most of the offenders in her area.
"I understand that you cannot say, 'Oh, we can't put a bus stop here in front of a sex offender,' because probably everywhere … no matter what there are going to be one or two," said Johnson, 40, whose daughter goes to Rodgers Middle School. "My issue is that you moved it back half a mile — closer to my house, granted — but you put it within a block of six or seven of them."
Johnson said she had called the school district and was told those conditions didn't meet criteria for moving a bus stop, which led to her to contact reporters.
Schools spokesman Steve Hegarty said the transportation office investigates all complaints about bus stops, but he could not confirm if Johnson's concerns had been reported to the office.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement maps show a cluster of seven sex offenders and one sexual predator — a designation reserved for repeat offenders or those authorities consider violent — within four blocks of S Kings Avenue and Center Avenue, the new stop.
Faced with a shortage of bus drivers, Hillsborough has recently overhauled its bus routes. Regardless of the changes, school districts commonly wrestle with ways to ensure the safest routes, Hegarty said.
"It would be virtually impossible to locate schools or bus stops or libraries without intersecting with known sex offenders," Hegarty said. Sex predators are another matter, he said, and the district has moved bus stops to avoid them. Of the Center Avenue bus stop, he said, "If we need to, we'll move the bus stop."
The Legislature in 2004 required districts to move bus stops that are within 1,000 feet of people convicted of certain crimes that meet other criteria.
Johnson's daughter, who lives east of S Kings Avenue, would not have to directly pass the homes of offenders or predators to get to the Center Avenue bus stop. Nonetheless, Johnson said she has requested that her daughter be able to board the bus at a different stop.
Times staff writer Jan Wesner and researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at email@example.com or (8813) 661-2431.